Former UK National Rally Champion, Britain’s Roger Duckworth, who finished second in Sol Rally Barbados 2019, will return for this year’s 33rd running of the Barbados Rally Club’s (BRC) blue riband event on June 9-11. Fresh from a fifth-place finish of the April 2nd Alan Healy Memorial Rally at Cadwell Park, he announced his 10th visit to the island and his second to compete in his Technia Ford Fiesta R5.
In a further update of plans for this year’s event, the BRC has confirmed that entry fees have been pegged at the 2022 rates, despite the global economic upheaval of recent months, and that new shipping arrangements will apply when the Geest Line freighter Baltic Klipper sails from Portsmouth on May 7. Ahead of Sol RB23, The Rally Show will be staged on Saturday, June 3, and King of the Hill the following day; on-line entries close on Friday, April 28.
Duckworth’s record in Barbados is impressive, with seven finishes in the top 10 in his Subaru Impreza WRC S6 – never lower than seventh – and five wins in the former WRC-2 class, with just one retirement with gearbox failure. Last year, however, when he debuted his Fiesta, he suffered a second DNF when he rolled out of contention on Saturday’s third run through the Dark Hole stage, when he was lying 10th overall after setting competitive times in the FIA R5 class.
He acquired the Fiesta last year to ensure he could participate in both the Goodwood Festival of Speed and Sol RB22 as the dates were too close to allow time for shipping his Impreza back. Also, as he said at the time, “partly driven by the fact that if I wanted to do a bit more rallying than I have for the past few years, I really ought to retire the ‘Old Girl’ and only bring her out for events like FoS.”
Although last year’s damage appeared to be largely cosmetic, it proved more serious once back at base: “Fixing it was quite a lot more expensive than I was expecting, so obviously my estimates as to what looked damaged versus what needed replacing was somewhat out! Once fixed, we converted to gravel spec and I tried out wet gravel by doing the Cambrian Rally in late October, my first gravel outing in three years. We finished eighth and fifth of the R5s and the pace was slowly approaching acceptable by the end of the day.”
That turned out to be Duckworth’s last outing with his long-term co-driver and friend Mark Broomfield, who has decided to ‘hang up his boots.’ Their successful partnership, dating back 30 years, includes finishing 11th overall and highest-placed amateur crew in the 1997 Network Q RAC Rally in an Impreza 555, winning the Mintex National Rally Championship the following year . . . and that second place in Sol RB19.
For last weekend’s outing in the UK, the co-driver was Marc Fowler, who has also sat with other drivers familiar to island fans, including Graham Coffey, Joe Cunningham and Andy Scott. Duckworth was comfortable with fifth place: “We had a good day and the car ran faultlessly and I was quite happy with my pace; so next stop Barbados!”
For Barbados, Stuart Loudon will step in, having travelled out with the team last year, as Duckworth explains: “Stuart was helping out because we were a mechanic short, hence why I thought of him for this year. As he lives in Scotland, though, we will just have the few days recce to get to know each other’s foibles.” In his 15 years as a co-driver, Loudon’s experience includes sitting with Robert Barrable (in WRC2 in a Fiesta R5), Alister McRae and Matthew Wilson and he has twice won the Mull Rally in a Fiesta with John McCrone. He is no stranger to Barbados: he finished fourth in Paul Bourne’s Ford Focus WRC06 in Sol RB14 but retired while leading the BRC Winter Rally in 2017 with Paul Bird (Focus WRC07) when clutch failure ended their rally on the fourth stage.
Explaining the changes to shipping for this year, Rally Office Manager Jeanne Crawford said: “Previously, the cars have been carried below decks on the journey west across the Atlantic Ocean, replacing cargo such as bananas off-loaded at the south coast port of Southampton, then containerised for the return trip. Shipping both ways by container has two major benefits: first, we will have more flexibility on dates, as we don’t have to select a freighter that carries cars below; second, it will help with the logistics of clearing cars from the Bridgetown Port, as the containers will be delivered direct to Rally Central at Bushy Park and unstuffed under Customs supervision on site.”
Crawford is pleased that these new arrangements have not impacted the entry fee for UK competitors, which remains at US$4,250 per car for first-time entrants, with a US$750.00 loyalty discount for those who have participated at least three times: “As everyone is facing increased costs these days, particularly since the pandemic, we have been working hard with our shipping partners at the Geest Line to arrive at the best solution. I’m delighted that we have been able to peg the entry fees at last year’s rate to support our regular visitors.”
Rally Barbados (June 9-11) is a tarmac rally, with around 20 special stages run on the island’s intricate network of public roads, under road closure orders granted by the Ministry of Transport, Works & Water Resources; the King of the Hill ‘shakedown’ (June 4), runs under a similar arrangement and features four timed runs on a roughly four-kilometre stage, the results of which are used to seed the running order for RB23.